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I spent last weekend in Kalispell at the Great Rockies Sport Show, the last of the four sport shows that Bill Rierer Jr. has produced in 2010 after Billings, Great Falls and Bozeman.

North-western Montana folks really love their hunting and fishing. The show had the best participation of any I have been associated with in the Flathead Valley.

Some of the talk at the Montana Outdoor Radio Show booth was geared toward Flathead Lake and Spring Mack Days, which also kicked off last weekend. It is starting off with hundreds of anglers competing in this year’s tournament, which will run through May 2.

“The fishing has been red hot,” said Matt McCombs who is a guide for Mo Fisch Charters based out of Lakeside. “I went out Friday morning and, in four hours by myself, I landed 10 fish, including four slot fish.”

Also on Saturday, Gene Fincher put on the first Bitterroot Bash tournament on Bitterroot Lake, 25 miles west of Kalispell. “I heard they had 300 people register for the tournament,” said McCombs.

Tournament fishing is not for everyone, but in some cases if you are good and lucky enough, you might end up winning some serious money.

Last year on Fort Peck Reservoir during the Montana Governors Cup Walleye Tournament, the winning team of Don and Myla Barton of Gillette, Wyo., caught 61.82 pounds of fish in two days. The couple ended up winning the tournament and cashed an $8,000 check.

At the Canyon Ferry Walleye Festival this year, the winner will take home $10,000. Last year, Joe McMenamy and Lance Bethel from Great Falls earned that check among the 150 teams that competed.

Fishing for cash brings on a whole new focus for most anglers. Some anglers spend two or three days pre-fishing tournament waters, marking spots where the fish are holding and hoping the fish will be in the same spot when tournament time comes.

“Marking fish is a good way to chart out a game plan, so when you fish during the tournament you at least have a general idea of where you want to start the day and where you will go after that,” said Luckie Bethel from Billings and the father of Lance. Bethel has won a few walleye tourneys himself in Montana.

But he cautions that even though you get into the fish a day before tournament time, that doesn’t guarantee the fish will cooperate when it counts.

Montana might be the most diverse state when it comes to offering up fishing tournaments when you consider species. Anglers can fish tournaments for bass, northern pike, trout, salmon, catfish, walleye, lake whitefish, and lake trout. If you enjoy carp shooting, there are even a few carp archery shoots that you can win some cash by placing in the top three for poundage.

For a complete listing of open-water tournaments in Montana go to the “Outdoor Calendar” page on www.montanaoutdoor.


Mark Ward’s statewide Montana Outdoor Radio Show airs Saturdays from 6 to 8 a.m. in Missoula on KGVO 1290 AM. E-mail Ward at

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